MMS Blog

Sometimes the Trickiest Part of CNC Machining Is Holding the Part

XL Machine was a Top Shops winning company in 2017. Plus, General Manager Chris Orlowski was part of a panel discussion with representatives from the other winning shops that year at our inaugural Top Shops Conference in Indianapolis.

In checking back with him a few months ago, I learned about a neat robotic cell the Three Rivers, Michigan, shop had recently added to machine three- and four-blade cast propellers (a family of 20 part numbers) for outboard boat engines. I mentioned that holding such contoured parts for five-axis machining had to be tricky. In fact, that was the most challenging part of the project, he said.

Orderfox Platform Now Free of Charge

In an effort to help CNC companies cope with the sudden and severe supply chain disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak, Orderfox reopens its CNC marketplace free of charge until April 30th. provides a global database connecting buyers and sellers of CNC machining services. Machine shops can search for and find both local and global CNC jobs for free, and buyers can place machining jobs on the platform as well as update and optimize their network of suppliers. Supply bottlenecks in some regions can be eliminated by taking action in other regions — supply chains and delivery capabilities can be maintained even in times of crisis. The company says the value of its online marketplace is found in optimizing workload. If a shop has open capacity, it can quickly and easily search for new jobs that match its company profile. 

Manufacturers Begin Making Significant Adjustments to Production

During the week of March 23rd, Gardner Intelligence conducted its fourth short survey to gage the effects of COVID-19 on discrete parts manufacturers across all the industries that Modern Machine Shop publisher Gardner Business Media covers. The survey asked two basic questions:

For each of those questions, respondents were asked to compare the current state of their business to the norm prior to COVID-19 and rank the severity of the change or adjustment from minimal to moderate to major.

Ruby the Riveter and a Reminder for the Times

Our country has been in crisis many times. The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is the latest to test our mettle. We are reacting to it as we have to earlier crises: by working together, finding new strengths, taking new jobs and making sacrifices.

During World War II, certainly a prolonged crisis for the United States, we memorialized Rosie the Riveter, an icon of the many women who joined the manufacturing workforce to fill spots left vacant by those who went to serve in the armed services. Rosie the Riveter represented the can-do spirit of all Americans, but especially the thousands of daughters, sisters and mothers who went to work in America’s factories.

Traceability Without Serial Numbers: Vision Technology Makes Every Part Its Own Identifier

Everything needed to trace, track or certify any individual manufactured part is already present on the part itself, according to Brian Crowley, CEO of Alitheon, a startup company focused on object traceability. The surface detail of a manufactured part is unique in the same way fingerprints are, he says. And, importantly, off-the-shelf imaging technology — notably including the cameras in our phones — is now capable of accurately capturing this distinctive surface-level detail. The result is a new possibility for identifying parts, arguably better and more reliable than serial numbers. Alitheon’s technology for using this surface detail for part ID is called “FeaturePrint.” 

Mr. Crowley says he and his team often run this demonstration: Playing cards from a new deck are imaged only from the back side, allowing company representatives to show how the FeaturePrint system unerringly identifies each card, even though to the human eye they are identical. At the company’s headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, 1,000 crisp $1 bills have been imaged, he says. A scan of the side without the serial number always correctly identifies the individual bill, because of the way the bills are all different at the level of minute surface features.